Doug Kirton and Tom Benner have several things in common.
Both men were born and raised in London, each has gone on to have wildly successful artistic careers, and together they will be taking up a good bit of space at the Michael Gibson Gallery.
Kirton’s Laurel Creek Derivations, along with Benner’s Ice Formations, are both on display at the downtown gallery, giving art lovers an opportunity to enjoy creations by two men pleased to once again be in the local spotlight.
“It’s a lot of fun showing in London,” said Benner. “You always get good turnout. It’s no different than anywhere else really, other than the turnout.”
While Benner still calls London home, Kirton left the Forest City in 1974, bound for the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.
From there he would move on to Toronto and then Waterloo, where he began teaching at the University of Waterloo in 1999. Today he is chair of the Department of Fine Arts.
Kirton still has family in London and get’s back to the Forest City, “pretty often.”
Even though he hasn’t lived in the city for years, he admits to still having a warm spot in his heart for his hometown. Growing up, Kirton recalls a London with a thriving arts scene, one he had a strong personal connection to.
His mother, who was herself involved in that same arts scene, got him a job helping out part time at Saturday morning art classes at the library.
While there, he met numerous artists who would go on to have significant influences on both his life and career. Names like Greg Curnoe, Ron Martin, Murray Favro, Jamelie Hassan and Robert Fones — all people who became historically important artists — became the people Kirton admired and looked up to.
But it was Curnoe who Kirton credits with inspiring his artistic passions.
“The works of Curnoe, they blew my mind. I could tell it was based in popular imagery. The colours were bright. It was something I could relate to,” he said. “My mother had always shown me paintings of Renaissance art that I didn’t really — at that time — identify with. It wasn’t until I saw Curnoe’s work; then I spent a lot of time trying to be like him.”
The paintings in the exhibit stem from Kirton’s daily walk past the Laurel Creek on his way to work at the University of Waterloo.
The Laurel Creek paintings chosen for the exhibit made sense, he said, because they are smaller than the majority of his works, but also because they spoke to a specific theme.
“I hope they leave the exhibition with a sense of, or a questioning of, their own place in their own environment,” Kirton said. “I hope people come away having some sense of that ambiguity in relation to place. That’s the effect I hope the viewer perceives in getting a sense of place and how they relate to that place.”
For Benner, Ice Formations is a return to a piece that was first exhibited in the late ‘70s.
Ice Formations stands just over seven feet tall, some 26 feet wide when the pieces are placed end-to-end, much larger than the Museum London rhino he is widely known for.
After being stored outside for about 10 years, it literally fell apart. So, he decided to rebuild it and share the piece with a new audience.
“It’s an interesting shape; it has a lot going for it. I hope people might read a little into it . . . think about why there are so many ice formations leaving Baffin Island and Greenland around this time,” Benner said. “It’s because the ice caps are melting. That’s something we can all think about.”